Wimbledon banned all Russian players from entering the tournament this year, as a way to punish the Russian government for invading Ukraine. Now that Elena Rybakina is in the final, a player who represents Kazakhstan but was born and still officially resides in Moscow is one step away from winning the prestigious title.
In the past 15 years, Kazakhstan, not typically a tennis country, invested substantial funds into the sport and attracted numerous quality players from the nearby countries of the former USSR, most notably from Russia. Due to the lack of adequate support from the Russian Tennis Federation, Elena Rybakina was one of many players to accept the help and support offered by Kazakhstan, so she switched nationalities when she turned 19, only four years ago, in 2018.
At the time she became a Kazakh citizen, Rybakina couldn’t have predicted that the move would allow her to reach her maiden Grand Slam final and possibly win her first major title. Russian players are banned from playing Wimbledon this year, the tournament’s decision greatly criticized and even penalized by the WTA. Besides sanctioning Wimbledon by not awarding ranking points to players participating in the event this year, the WTA has fined the AELTC £207,000 and the LTA £620,000.
Rybakina’s deep run at Wimbledon has brought political questions of what it means to represent a country and highlighted the fruitlessness of punishing players based on their citizenship. During press conferences in London, the 23-year-old was bombarded with intense questions regarding her origin, such as: “In your heart, do you feel Russian, still?” Rybakina continued to emphasize that she’d been representing Kazakhstan already for a long time and kept her answers as neutral as possible.
Rybakina’s WTA player info states that Moscow is her residence and her family still lives in the Russian capital. When faced with questions regarding her residence, Rybakina answered:
“I think I’m based on tour because I’m traveling every week. I think most of the time, I spend on tour. I practice in Slovakia between the tournaments. I had camps in Dubai. So I don’t live anywhere.”